Many thanks for David Holman’s piece on big sugar. But he underestimates the subsidy and the damage to the American consumer.
I rarely agree with greens or the nitwit left, however, much of their research on the connection of big sugar to a host of uneconomic federal interference is astonishingly on target. The largest example is the Army Corps of Engineers: virtually a wholly owned subsidiary of south Florida cane sugar farmers. The A.C.E., like all bureaucracies, seeks to justify its existence, provide comfy sinecures, and maximize its budget, with corresponding damage to wetlands and swamps, and nearly endless dredging and re-engineering of failed channels and ill-conceived land reclamation projects. It has found a perfect client in big sugar, which naturally lobbies both for the subsidies Holman identified, and an ever-expanding budget for the A.C.E.
Holman has no idea what he is up against if he tries to track down all the subsidies big sugar receives. In 1986 I was a 25-year-old agricultural economist working for a beltway bandit consulting firm, and got an assignment to look at the sugar industry. When I totaled up the subsidies, farm loan guarantees, fuel credits, tax relief, trade protectionism, and costs of social services to the mostly illegal labor pool for Florida cane sugar growers, I was astonished. In addition, the Reagan administration had promoted trade in sugar with our neighbors through the expensive and abandoned Caribbean Basin Initiative. When I added in the cost of the Army Corps of Engineers and their swampy tinker toys, it made me sick, and I became a small government conservative from my research.
When I began to privately circulate a draft of my cost analysis to friends on Capitol Hill and at the Department of Agriculture. I thought it was going to be just another policy paper, lost in the slush pile. We were all writing them, all the time. Your friends would promise to read it, but they never did. You circulated draft papers because your pals would occasionally help you out by catching typos and labeling errors on the scale on your graphics.
Days later, the secretary of my supervisor’s boss telephoned me and ordered me to report to his office right away. I had never met the man. She told me to go right into his imposing corner office executive suite with his Cadillac sized desk. On this impressive slab of wood was a well-thumbed copy of my report, which he had not obtained from me. In the kind of meeting that can only be described as terrifying for a young man with student loans to pay off, I was told in blunt terms that I must immediately withdraw all copies of the draft report I had circulated (all stamped in red “DRAFT”), that I was to give him a complete list of everyone to whom I had circulated the report, that I was to be reassigned, and that I should be fired. I was told to leave the office immediately and drive to the Department of Agriculture and the offices of my friends on Capitol Hill and personally retrieve the copies, and report back to him by 6 p.m. In 30 seconds he had demoted me from economist to messenger boy, on a mission of information retrieval.p>Days later I figured out that I was just a pawn between the interests of big sugar and big corn syrup (my likely client), and my report was just a skirmish in their continuing battle with each other to shape U.S. domestic farm subsidies. Holman is on the right track covering big sugar, but he should be glad he works as a journalist and not for a consulting firm. He can’t be told the economist’s equivalent of “you’ll never work in this town again.” The U.S. government is very good to big sugar, and big sugar returns the favor by buying a lot of influence in Washington. br> — James N. Ward br> Breux-Jouy, France
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